With the passing of Manfred Thierry Mugler, there has been an outpouring of articles and commentary around his importance in the fashion world – but it would be remiss to not reflect on his impact on the fragrance industry. As a creative director, Mugler was responsible for some of the most daring creations in the world of mainstream perfumery – the fragrances bearing his name brought forth new families, novel combinations and countless copies, none more so though than his shining star, Angel.
With a sillage as iconic as any of Mugler’s silhouettes, Angel launched in 1992, bearing the tagline: beware of angels.
Created by perfumers Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chiris, Angel was reportedly inspired by Mugler’s childhood memories of eating candyfloss at a fairground. Cresp claims that Angel went through 600 trials in development, during which period the perfumers met with Vera Strubi of Thierry Mugler Parfums every day for years to achieve Mugler’s vision.
Angel is instantly recognisable, and yet difficult to describe. It is in itself, a finely tuned scent that combines seemingly disparate concepts into something new – hailed as the very first ‘gourmand’ fragrance.
The key to the fragrance is overdosing both ethyl maltol (a crystalline material that smells of strawberries and burnt sugar) and patchouli as part of its notorious chocolate accord. In the top, helional and bergamot are responsible for much of the sparkle, and the oddly aquatic-ozonic vibe that the fragrance has. There are sweet red fruits and a touch of tamarind, too, which add a juicy quality. Angel is immensely diffusive, thanks in part to a big dose of hedione, and the gourmand aspects of honey, praline and powdery vanilla, with the sticky sweetness of caramel, candyfloss and chocolate. Patchouli is also key, making up a huge portion of the formula, it provides an earthy, loamy and dark counterpoint which suggests the mud of the fairground, and helps soften what would otherwise be too much sugariness.
Rather than using top, heart and base notes to discuss the fragrance, in the marketing messaging, Mugler talk about it as having Celestial (fresh air and blue skies), Delicious (edible, sweet notes) and Voluptuous (rich, powdery, earthy) facets.
But the scent itself is only one part of Angel’s success story. Reportedly, the star-shaped bottle was a nightmare to create, and many glass companies turned Mugler away – it was the Brosse glassmakers that finally solved the problem and produced the bottles. Once perfected, they were so expensive to produce that they had to be refilled. It was this refillable bottle that drove some of the loyalty – you could buy it once, and have it refilled for a more affordable price in stores, at the Angel Source.
Initially, Angel was a flop. It sold very slowly, presumably because it was so bombastic and unlike anything that had come before. Vera Strubi and the Clarins family (who financed the perfume brand at the time) believed in the product, and embarked on the Angel’s Tour – taking a sky blue van across France for a sampling campaign. The campaign worked, as did introducing Jerry Hall as the face of the fragrance.
What followed was a tradition of creating gorgeous, limited edition collectors bottles, driving the fandom and obsession, as well as creating the Angel Circle, a kind of fan club for the fragrance. Angel is now better known now by its newer bottle, the Shooting Star.
Angel is a shapeshifter and has had countless flankers and variations over the years. Innocent lightened up the original, with acidic fruitiness. The Garden of Angel gave her floral facets (rose, violet, lily and peony editions). Eau de Star added mint and upped the aquatic note. We’ve even seen The Taste of Fragrance, which added a cocoa note, Les Parfums de Cuir, where a leather note was added, and Liqueurs de Parfums – which added cognac effects (allegedly by ageing the fragrance in a cognac barrel – the jury is out).
Angel has remained a bestselling fragrance since the mid-90s, and many of the other bestsellers globally have clearly drawn inspiration from it. Fragrances such as Lolita Lempicka, Coco Mademoiselle, Flowerbomb, Miss Dior (née Chérie), Black Orchid, La Vie est Belle, and Black Opium, and all of their flankers. These have also been remixed countless times. The red fruits-caramel-woods accord at the heart of angel has also made its way into personal care, air care, and even laundry products. With smell-alikes in all categories, Angel’s DNA has found its way into homes around the world.
Angel is not alone in the Mugler fragrance legacy, either. In 1996, A*Men (or Angel Men)launched. A striking and frankly odd creation by Jacques Huclier, which took all of the chocolate-praline-honey of Angel and set it alongside a classic barbershop accord of lavender, geranium, mint and coriander, as well as tar and coffee. Alien, in 2005, with its solar jasmine-cashmeran accord that brought about the current woody amber trend. And of course the much maligned Womanity in 2010, a truly savoury gourmand fragrance which again took aquatic notes but this time set it against a caviar, fig and biscuit-like note.
Angel will soon turn 30. It is a sadness that Mugler himself will not be here to celebrate it. But through his vision, he created a fragrance that completely changed the industry, and the world’s smellscape.